Alaska Airlines hires its first UC engineering co-op student
Madison Byrd dreamed of working for an airline
For University of Cincinnati aerospace engineering student Madison Byrd, her final co-op rotation was noteworthy for more than one reason. Byrd's co-op with Alaska Airlines marked both her final rotation as an undergraduate student and the first University of Cincinnati student to work for the West Coast airline.
At the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), Byrd's innate fascination with airplanes grew. It was during the aircraft performance and design course her third year that her curiosity turned into a career goal. In the course, she was taught all the factors that go into flight such as the specific conditions that must be met, how planes are able to fly and the engineering involved.
"I've always been curious about planes. Growing up, I lived right by an airport and throughout my childhood I constantly had planes flying above me and stopped to watch them no matter what I was doing," Byrd said.
The renowned cooperative education (co-op) program at CEAS and the well-regarded aerospace engineering program influenced her to come to UC. She felt that the opportunity to get real-world experience in her field while working towards her degree would give her a leg up on other graduates. CEAS students complete five semesters of co-op, alternating with semesters in the classroom. Byrd worked as a manufacturing engineer for gas refrigerators at Norcold Inc., a manufacturing operations engineer and quality engineer for aerospace parts at Rhinestahl Inc. and a project manager for building facilities (HVAC systems, water fountains, etc.) at EMCOR Facilities Services. For her final rotation, she set out to work for an airline.
"Pretty much my entire college career I wanted to work for an airline, but that path to get there initially seemed impossible," Byrd said.
Many airlines typically hire interns from neighboring universities. For instance, the Alaska Airlines Hub she worked for is in Seattle and hires most interns from the closest university. Nonetheless, Byrd persisted.
In fact, she was no stranger to obstacles. Her experience in aerospace engineering has been impacted by unlikely odds from the beginning. Aerospace engineering is a male-dominated field. When Byrd entered the undergraduate program in 2019, her class had less than 20% of students who identified as women.
"Some people unfortunately have preconceived opinions about women. My ideas have been blown off in the past in various groups because people don't take me seriously," Byrd said. "The only thing you can do is prove them wrong."
Byrd didn't plan to make college history with her co-op. When she applied, she didn't realize that, if she was hired, she would be the first Bearcat student to work for Alaska Airlines. At CEAS, students are assigned a co-op adviser to help guide them through their co-op journey. It was during Byrd's semesterly meeting with her adviser that she learned she'd be the first.
"When my adviser told me that we've never had a student work at Alaska Airlines I was very excited, but at the same time it made me nervous," Byrd said. "I thought to myself, it hasn't been done yet, so what are my odds of getting the job?"
After two rounds of interviews, Byrd received the official offer to be a maintenance operations intern. As part of the offer, she would relocate to Seattle for the summer. The company offered her a relocation to assist with the moving costs and she was given free standby flights for the summer.
Consistently ranked top five in the nation, the co-op program at UC is quite notable as the first such program in the nation for undergraduates. Although she was the first UC student hired as a co-op at the airline, Byrd knew the college's reputation preceded her.
"I was really motivated to do an amazing job," she said. "I wanted to show Alaska Airlines how great UC engineering students are and how well UC prepares us for the workforce."
As a maintenance operations intern, she was responsible for the creation, implementation and oversight of an aircraft maintenance and repair schedule. Prior to her co-op rotation, the airline didn't have a method to predict when aircraft would need routine maintenance. Things like paint touch-ups, seat repairs, engine washes, etc. are all things that must be done to keep aircraft in good condition.
I was really motivated to do an amazing job. I wanted to show Alaska Airlines how great UC engineering students are and how well UC prepares us for the workforce.
Madison Byrd UC aerospace engineering student
"I had to take these tasks and maximize them in a way that we could make a forecast schedule. Prior to my being there, we just took things as they came. If something broke, the plane would be brought in and fixed, but there was no way to plan or predict," Byrd said.
To do this, she researched how many tasks there were and how often they needed to reoccur. With this information, she created mathematical equations with variables and was able to input each task and create a forecast schedule to efficiently get planes out of the maintenance shop and back into service for passengers. A short time into her employment, her manager, the head of the maintenance operations department, pulled her aside to show her the impact her work was having on productivity of the aircraft. The experience and opportunity to contribute to large-scale projects and operations like this is part of what makes the UC co-op program invaluable.
It's really cool to make a difference. In this role, I wanted to do so not only to open opportunities for myself, but to open opportunities for future UC engineering students as well and give our college a good reputation," Byrd said.
On campus, she is president of UC Aerocats, a member of the powerlifting club and will graduate in the spring of 2024. Post-graduation, she is eager to see the opportunities that await her in the aerospace industry.
Discover the benefits of our top-ranked co-op program that is integrated into the curriculum at the College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Featured image at top: Madison Byrd in front of an Alaska Airlines aircraft. Photo/provided.